PRoust Questionnaire: Toni Muzi Falconi

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Toni Muzi Falconi with the newest family member, Federico (six months). Toni is also grandfather to Alessandro (15), Pietro (10) and Alice (5).

The PRoust Questionnaire provides a quick insight into a public relations practitioner’s interests and point of view, as well as his or her professional beliefs and values.

If you are not familiar with the original 19th-century Proust Questionnaire, please see details at the end of this post.

PRoust Questionnaire answers from Toni Muzi Falconi:

1. What is your most striking characteristic as a PR practitioner?

Curiosity in exploring why nothing ever happens twice in the same way. Our PR professionwhen taken seriouslyis highly complex and very interdisciplinary.

2. What is your principal fault as a PR practitioner?

I am inclined to over-think the approach and take for granted it will result in an effective execution. Time is very important and I’m conscious of that fact, but this approach tends to create tensions with my collaborators and/or my clients/employers/stakeholders. Many think in terms of a “quick fix.”

3. What is your favourite occupation in PR?

Developing effective relationships between an organization and its various stakeholders and adding value to the organization, by accelerating responsible achievement of its objectives.

4. Why do you work in PR?

Because besides being my favourite occupation, it is also my favourite hobby, my closest relationship and my most severe addiction (even more than cigarettes or, in earlier times, sex…).

5. What is your idea of PR nirvana?

A space where engaged professionals thoughtfully consider the consequences on others of what they suggest and/or execute; where concerned educators focus on assisting students to develop critical minds…and where non-serious professionals and educators migrate to other nirvanas.

6. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery in PR?

Personal lowest: helplessly assisting in the consequences of a mistake that I originated. But just as there’s no limit to the depth of this misery, similarly you can’t begin to measure the height of orgasm when something turns out the way you planned it.

7. What qualities do you most admire in a PR practitioner?

A practitioner’s thought process, relationship enhancement and creativity. And naturally, his or her curiosity.

8. What qualities do you most dislike in a PR practitioner?

The common “dime a dozen” attitude towards “campaigns”; the Pavlovian belief and cockiness about possessing the right answer before even beginning to listen; cutting corners without knowing what is on the other side of the curve (although occasionally cutting corners can be satisfactory!); thinking of PR as a craft, a trade or an industry, rather than a profession whose power in society is much stronger than our stakeholders or we think. Finally, considering that everything (even a pee) is “strategic” and everyone is a “target.”

9. Who would you describe as a PR hero or villain

A PR hero is a successful and concerned professional or educator who donates personal resources to the strengthening of our body of knowledge. I suggest, for example, Richard Edelman and Jean Valin, plus Larissa and James Grunig, as heroes.

A PR villain is one who does not do these things. There are too many names to cite. Besides, I don’t want to give them free publicity.

10. What do you most value in your professional contacts?

I value curiosity, intelligence and an ability to express thoughts with clarity and passion. “Walking the talk,” a sense of responsibility and accountability. Plus charm.

11. Have you ever been influenced by a PR campaign?

Yes, many times and from many sources. All relate to that critical mind, which concerned educators should strive to develop in students, allowing them to identify interests being protected or enhanced by the vast array of sources of influence in today’s society.

12. Where would you most like to practise PR?

No particular preference, as long as I am able to develop an effective and responsible relationship with client/employer and stakeholders. Going against the norm, often I find being in the C-suite a huge waste of time.

13. Has a novel, film, play or other work of fiction ever influenced you as a PR practitioner?

My being a PR practitioner is the result of the contamination of all the fiction (and non-fiction) in books and movies, which has permeated my life since my early teens.

14. Who do you think has great public relations?

In most cases successful organizations do not have overt public visibility. Or, when they do have a high profile, they don’t betray their anxiousness or obsessive need to be liked.

15. Which real, historical or fictional person or brand would you like to give a reputation makeover?

Julian Assange. Or Colonel Ghaddafi’s son, Saif (if he is still alive…). I know many expect me to say Silvio Berlusconi, but this challenge I’d pass on (he does himself enough harm as it is).

16. Who is your favourite writer?

Henry Miller

17. What one thing is essential to your PR life?

Effective functioning of my brain. Plus specific and strong relationships.

18. Groucho Marx is quoted as saying he’d never join a club that would have him as a member. Which PR club, association or tribes do you belong to—and why?

I have been active in numerous professional associations—national (Italy), international/global and practice-related since the early 1970s (while being in practice for 50 years). The alibi I use when asked why? “To give back.” Yet I know this is BS; in fact, I enjoy it.

19. Where do you most like to do your professional networking?

Today, in most cases, in the digital sphere. But I do recognize that face to face is crucial and the ultimate challenge.

20. What’s the best career decision you ever made?

To return to public relations in the early 1970s after a (two-year) journalism sabbatical. Similarly, to return to PR after political sabbaticals in the mid-1970s and early nineties.

21. What skills and abilities do you think tomorrow’s PR leaders need?

They need listening skills, digital programming and selecting behaviours from opinions. Plus understanding decision-making processes.

22. Which talent would you most like to have?

Programming—in order to avoid being programmed without even realizing it!

23. How would you like to end your PR career?

I have absolutely no intention to do this, although now 70 year old. I recognize I’ve benefited more than most in terms of being privileged and lucky in my life (professionally and personally). Still, I wouldn’t mind a further extension on my “license to operate.”

24. How would you describe the current state of public relations?

Challenging. As all other and more established professions blur their traditional identities, public relations appears to be in a relatively healthy state—this PR Conversations blog is a stellar example. Undoubtedly (and regrettably), this vision and thought leadership is shared by a relatively small cohort of colleagues. But it is certainly not a silent minority. Together we are making a difference.

25. What is your PR motto?

Embrace working in the most fascinating and challenging professional career one may experience in today’s world.

We operate in the space where society’s political, cultural, technological and economic communities interrelate. Where else would one prefer to work to make a difference?

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Toni Muzi Falconi is director of Methodos in Milano, an Italian management consultancy specializing in performance, change and integrated management practices. He lives in Rome and teaches public relations at the Vatican’s LUMSA University and also lives in New York City where (twice a year) he teaches Global Relations and Intercultural Communication as well as Public Affairs courses in NYU’s Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communication. A past president of Ferpi (the Italiam PR association), founding chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management (GA), he developed Toni’s Blog in 2005, which was then transformed into PR Conversations in 2007.

Check out the GA’s Stockholm Accords HUB blog (where Toni is the principal contributor), follow him on Twitter or contact him by email.

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The PRoust Questionnaire was originally designed to reveal one’s personality. Its name and popularity as a form of interview has roots in the responses given by the French writer, Marcel Proust. His first set of responses came at the end of the nineteenth century, when he was still in his teens (from an English-language “confession album”).

For PR Conversations we have adapted this original idea with questions that offer a public relations’ perspective. It is fun to compare and contrast responses as the series grows. (See below.)

If you would like to be invited to complete our PRoust Questionnaire for posting on PR Conversations, please visit our Crowdsourcing suggestion form.

Earlier PRoust Questionnaire respondents:

Richard Bailey

Jane Jordan-Meier

Nelly Benova

Peter V. Stanton

Mat Wilcox

Anne Gregory

Markus Pirchner

Heather Yaxley

Judy Gombita

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